As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.


Chinonye Chukwu


Chinonye Chukwu
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 3 wins & 30 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Alfre Woodard ... Bernadine Williams
Richard Schiff ... Marty Lumetta
Aldis Hodge ... Anthony Woods
Wendell Pierce ... Jonathan Williams
Danielle Brooks ... Evette Wilkinson
Michael O'Neill ... Chaplain David Kendricks
Richard Gunn ... Thomas Morgan
LaMonica Garrett ... Logan Cartwright
Vernee Watson ... Mrs. Collins
Dennis Haskins ... Mr. Collins
John Churchill ... Officer Brooks
Alex Castillo ... Victor Jimenez
Alma Martinez ... Ms. Jimenez
Michelle C. Bonilla ... Sonia
Jed Bernard ... Death Watch Officer


Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some disturbing material, and language. | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Due to the film's heavy subject matter and sometimes depressing tone, director Chinonye Chukwu made sure to keep the tone on set happy and light, and checked in on actors between takes. See more »


Slow Train
Written by Kathryn Bostic
Performed by Kathryn Bostic
See more »

User Reviews

First Hit: The slow eruption of sorrow by Alfre Woodard as Warden Bernadine Williams is formidable.
27 January 2020 | by michaeldoudSee all my reviews

First Hit: The slow eruption of sorrow by Alfre Woodard as Warden Bernadine Williams is formidable.

Make no mistake, this is Woodard's film from beginning to end. As the warden of a prison that executes the individuals on death row, she faces up to her with a commitment to her job, strength, and affected vulnerability.

The film begins with Warden Williams presiding over an execution. The medical orderly botches needle insertion attempts. The camera focuses on Williams' face almost the whole time, and by reading the barely visible changes in expression, we know she's a percolating pot of unexpressed feelings.

Williams is married to Jonathan (Wendell Pierce), who is a high school teacher. We only find out about his work late in the film, but the scene where he's reading to his students provides a good indication of the depth and quality of the man he is.

There are moments the film explores their relationship with scenes in their home, and what we see is a man doing his best to reach out to his wife, and she is barely able to respond.

Bernadine is loyal to her job. She knows it is essential, but her own awareness that the job is eating her alive is minimal. When she's engaging prisoners, especially Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), are both practical and carry an underlying heartfelt caring.

The focus of this story is between the time of the early botched execution and the execution of Woods. The story uses Major Logan Cartwright's (LaMonica Garrett) difficulty after the botched execution as to the power of responsibility to do one's job of pushing the buttons of death. There is this side story of Chaplain Kendricks (Michael O'Neill), who is the Chaplain that is there to assist the doomed prisoners. There is the anti-execution attorney Marty Lumetta (Richard Schiff) pleading to stay Woods's execution because evidence shows he probably wasn't the killer and because of the previously botched execution. Then there is Woods's own story and the effect of discovering he has a son just before his day of execution.

All of these stories are etched in Williams' face as she painfully goes through her duties of Warden.

The scene with Woods in his cell, trying to hurt himself, is painful to watch. I had to turn away for part of it. When Woods meets up with the mother of his son, her story of why she did what she did was so compelling. Deputy Warden Thomas Morgan's (Richard Gunn) support of Williams is shown in several scenes. The bar parking lot scene in which he asks for keys is reflective of his caring, help, and support.

The film, because the subject is dark, is mostly shot in darker tones. The Williams' home is not infused with light, the prison and prison walls are realistically portrayed in generic faded government colors. The yellow lines border each hallway in prison, guiding prisoners where they can walk, is poignantly shown.

However, the film is very slow-paced, and at times, I did want it to jump forward, but I also understand why it was done this way.

Woodard gives a career-defining performance. The subtle movements in her expressions, eyes, and body movement tell a compelling story, and it surely deserved an award nomination. Garrett was terrific as this hulking strong guard that had to succumb to his inner voice about participating in another execution. Pierce was extraordinary in his role as Bernadine's husband. Schiff was terrific as the prisoner rights attorney. O'Neill was perfect as the Chaplain. Hodge was remarkable and fantastic as the prisoner wrongly accused of murder facing death by execution. Gunn was excellent as a caring Deputy Warden. Chinonye Chukwu wrote and directed this film with both heart and intention. When the state takes a life, it affects everyone involved, including our society.

Overall: This was a study in outstanding acting by Woodard.

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Release Date:

27 December 2019 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Clemency See more »

Filming Locations:

Santa Clarita, California, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$35,444, 29 December 2019

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
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